Pastor Sherry’s message from March 7, 2021
Scriptures: Ex 20:1-17; Ps 19; 1 Cor 1:18-25; Jn 2:13-22
Remember when the Berlin Wall came down? (Some of us remember when it was put up.) What a historic day! Communism appeared to be collapsing all over Eastern Europe. On Christmas Day of 1989, the Romanian president was captured and executed. Romanians were delirious with their newfound freedom. However, since no one had been left in charge of the country, first joy, then turmoil reigned. Western news correspondents found one woman who spoke English and asked her opinion of the chaos. She stated correctly, “We have freedom, but we don’t know what to do with it.” (“Christian Century”, Mar. 15, 2000). In her country, it appeared that freedom led to anarchy—at least for a time.
Martin Luther expressed similar sentiments following the Protestant Reformation in the 1500’s. The German people were so happy to be out from under the then oppressive rules of the Catholic Church that they initially went hog wild. Believing God’s grace was free, they felt they could do as they liked. Luther himself visited a number of communities near Wittenburg and concluded, “Alas, what wretchedness I beheld. We have perfected the fine art of abusing liberty.” Hoping to reign in the worst of the excesses, he set about writing his Large and Small catechisms.
We can all think of similar cases, can’t we? How about the young man or woman whose folks raised them very strictly, then sent them off to college? You, like me, probably saw some of them lose their minds, once the clamps were removed (drugs, sex, etc). We often see similar behaviors from persons leaving unhappy marriages (partying, drug use, multiple hook ups, etc.).
You see, freedom doesn’t mean we can do whatever we want.
Lasting freedom is much more disciplined than that. Lasting freedom says, “What I want or need is important, but so is what others want or need.” It’s not aggressiveà”Only what I need or want counts,” something we saw a lot of in the riots last summer, when peoples’ property was destroyed and some lives lost. And it’s also not passiveà”Only what you need or want counts.” This is where people take no action to protect their rights. They naively allow someone stronger, or more charismatic/glib, or having more money and influence to determine what happens.
Our Scriptures today impart to us how our God perceives we should respond to our freedoms:
Exodus 20:1-17 demonstrates that we cannot manage well without a moral code. The Israelites have been freed from slavery for about a month. 1st, they worried about escaping Egypt alive. After God took care of them by parting the Red Sea and eradicating the pursuing Egyptian army,they then became concerned about having enough food and water in the wilderness. By the time of Exodus 20, it had become clear that they didn’t know how to behave. While Moses was up on the mountain, receiving God’s Law, the people took the wealth with which they had left Egypt to make a golden calf to worship! They abused Moses’ leadership andthey were disrespectful to and untrusting of God. God knew they needed some rules to live by and He provided them.
We call these the 10 Commandments: They are a God-given moral code for us. The 1st four have to do with how we treat or regard God:
1st, verse 3 No idolatry. This meansno polytheism or multiple gods. But it also implies noaethismàPsalm 53:1àthe fool has said in his heart, “there is no God.” They [the fools who deny god’s existence] are corrupt, and their ways are vile; there is no one who does good.
2nd, verse 4 No idols. This one comes with consequences: punishment to the 3rd and 4th generations of those who reject God;but blessings and rewards to the 1000’s of generations of those who love God and obey Him.
3rd, verse 7 Do not take God’s name in vain. We see and hear cursing all the time which involves God’s name, don’t we? Many people punctuate their speech with curses—and don’t know or care how they offend God.
4th, verses 8-11 Keep the Sabbath holy. Our culture also violates this one frequently. But those of us who are believers know we need to take a day of rest, 1 per each 7 days to honor God.
The next 6 all have to do with how we treat others:
5th, verse 12 Honor your father and mother Our God-given moral code toward others begins in our homes. As I have shared several times, my folks were both active alcoholics whom I did not respect. I have since wondered how much of the trouble in my life arose from my teenaged disrespect of them.
6th, verse13 Do not kill (aimed at individuals, not nations).
7th, verse 14 Do not commit adultery.
8th, verse 15 Do not steal.
9th. verse 16 Do not lie.
10th,verse 17 Do not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor. There was a time I had to not watch HGTV. I found I was coveting the home improvements people enjoyed on those programs. They create an appetite for more and better in us that we have to consciously decide not to pursue.
The 10 Commandments are the guardrails on the highway of life. They are not meant to restrict us as much as to keep us safe. My son owns a Corvette. These high performance cars sit very low to the ground. My daughter has recently built a house at the back of a cow pasture. To get to it, one must drive down a ¼ mile driveway consisting of two deep ruts in the grass—sometimes waiting for curious but unconcerned cows to move out of the way. My son cannot drive his Corvette to see his sister. Corvettes are not meant for off-road treking and neither are we!
Using a different metaphor, J. Vernon McGee says the 10 Commandments are like our bathroom mirror. They help us see the dirt on our faces. Fortunately, we have a sink just below the mirror in which to wash away the dirt. God’s Law is like that mirror. It reveals our sinfulness, but instead of a sink, we have Jesus to then forgive us for our sins.
The ancient Hebrews would not have used either of these metaphors—expensive cars or mirrors, but neither did they regard the 10 Commandments as restrictive. Instead, they viewed them as a gift which kept human ruthlessness at bay; which help us manage our freedoms well; and which convict us of where and when we fall short.
Psalm 19 was written by King David to…
1. Praise God as the God of creation, Elohim (plural form of El, indicating the Trinity, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit);
2. And praise Him for His Commandments.
David knew full well what happened when someone, including himself, violated God’s Law. In the Bathsheba incident, he had coveted the wife of his “might man,” Urriah. He had an adulterous affair with her, then ordered Urriah to the front of a battle, effectively murdering him. And he committed a lie of omission to then act as though he had done no wrong. After he acknowledged his wrong-doings, he also knew the grief and sorrow these violations caused both him and those they loved. God said the sword would never leave his house. One of his sons raped a daughter by another mother. That daughter’s brother then killed the rapist. Another son attempted to steal his throne from him, and so on. David paid mightily for his sins with Bathsheba! By the time he wrote this psalm, he clearly saw the 10 Commandments as the guardrails on the highway of his life.
In 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, Paul is talking about how the Cross divides humankind into 2 categories: saved vs. unsaved. To those who are perishing, the lost, the Gospel of Christ appears foolish, a folktale, an unbelievable myth. I have certainly encountered scoffers, mockers, and unbelievers. They have made their choice and we Christ-followers know it is a misguided one. But to those of us who believe, the Cross demonstrates the supreme power of God over sin and all the works of the evil one, and over death.
Paul also divides people into two other groups: Jews and Gentiles (Greeks). Essentially, he says the Jews lost out because they denied the Messiahship, the Lordship of Christ. During Jesus’ time among them, they were given many signs/miracles, but they disbelieved them or explained them away. Their religious beliefs had largely become rituals only, empty forms lacking a personal relationship with God and a Holy Spirit inspired view of Scripture. So, instead of looking to see how Jesus fulfilled their Scriptures, they asked for more signs in today’s Gospel, John 2:13-22.
Nevertheless, Jesus did give them one more sign, the “sign of Jonah”(Matt 12:38-40) Just as Jonah was trapped for 3 days in the belly of the fish, Jesus lay in the tomb 3 days before being resurrected.
Paul is writing to Corinthians, those who dwelt around and in the Greek city of Corinth. The Greeks were big believers in the power of human philosophy, or human wisdom, to raise humanity to a higher level of functioning. They sought the truth, but through human intellect. Someone has humorously defined philosophy as, “A blind man in a dark room looking for a black cat that isn’t there.” Not a very reassuring definition is it?
We think we’re very smart, but we can and do justify whatever we want to try to defend. The truth is that the wisdom of God far surpasses ours. Or, as Paul writes, (v.25) For the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom and the weakness of God is stronger than man’s strength.
So, the problem with freedom is that we humans tend to take it too far. We need limits; we need boundaries to keep us safe. God has provided these boundaries in the 10 Commandments and the rest of His Law. In them, He has taught us how to live in regard to Him and to others. In them. He has taught us how to enjoy freedom free of chaos.
Like David and Paul, let’s praise Him for His life-giving wisdom and His life-saving boundaries.
©2021 Rev. Dr. Sherry Adams